Airline Fares a Tax on Families

Nov 27, 2008 4:44 PM. All work by , ,

NUTLEY, N.J.—Airline ticket prices will separate a family of four this holiday season. Stephanie Komura chose to spend the holidays at home with her father Shigeru while her mother and younger brother visit their extended family in Hawaii.

Stephanie and Shigeru say they are saving between two- and four-thousand dollars, depending on when and where they chose to buy their tickets. The sacrifice means more than giving up a balmy beachside vacation — it means breaking tradition and missing what the Komuras call their largest family gathering of the year. This is the first year that Stephanie has opted to stay home to save the family money. Shigeru, who use to work two jobs until recently, has only flown to Hawaii with the family a handful of times, he says.

“My dad usually spends the holidays by himself,” says Stephanie, “I’m glad I’m staying here, even if I could afford [the flight to Hawaii].”

Stephanie is in her third year at Villanova University and says that her college expenses have really taxed her family and is one of the reasons why her father took up a second job last year.

Georgetown University sophomore Hilary Nakasone paid roughly $1,000 for her ticket back to Hawaii this winter break, she says. Her mother bought the ticket almost five months ago, along with an even more expensive ticket for her return home again this coming summer.

And these aren’t fancy tickets. These are economy class, non-exchangeable, non-refundable, try-to-pass-your-second-suitcase-as-a-backpack sort of tickets. However, both Nakasone and the Komura family say that reuniting with their families this Christmas is a worthwhile strain.

“If [my mother] had let me skip my first day of classes, I would have saved $400!” says Nakasone, who found that ticket prices fluctuated dramatically from day-to-day. She almost went ahead and bought the tickets herself, she says.

The rise in ticket prices, the lengthening list of airline fees, the steady increase of college tuition and the poor state of the economy are making it extremely tough on those travelling long distances. Both Nakasone and the Komuras agree that the trials of this holiday season instilled an appreciation for more affordable pricing; however, the biggest change in each was distrust.

“If oil is so cheap now, why are tickets still so expensive?” asked Nakasone, rhetorically. Her face flushed as she stood and recalled how a flight home had cost half as much in May 2008 even though the price of crude oil was two and a half times more expensive than it is now.

In contrast to what Nakasone and the Komuras found, a press release by the online travel booking site, Travelocity.com, said that airline fares are only getting cheaper.

“For those who priced out a December trip earlier this year and found travel was out of their reach this holiday season, it's time for another look.” The press statement went on to say that the company’s “most recent data” showed an average price drop of $53 in the last five weeks. It went on to say, “Despite the economic downturn, there will be no shortage of travelers,” and that passengers may end up paying less than they did a year ago for the same flight.

Nakasone opened an archived email after reading the Travelocity press release. It was a confirmation email for a round-trip airline ticket, the first leg of which went from Dulles Airport, D.C. to Honolulu last December. The ticket was $843.

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Convicted Felon Ordered to Live With Girlfriend

Nov 8, 2008 10:03 PM. All work by , ,

BOSTON—The federal court ordered Brockton resident Robert Nelson, 23, to live with his girlfriend following a hearing yesterday afternoon. Cierra Lobrano, 21, pledged a $50,000 joint-bail with Nelson’s mother to release Nelson on house arrest in Lobrano’s apartment in Roxbury.

Nelson was arrested in June for possession of a firearm, which comes with an average penalty of one year, said Nelson’s attorney, Catherine Byrne. He is now being tried in federal court for being a felon in possession of a firearm, which comes with a sentence of up to ten years.

Byrne said that although Nelson will likely face seven years in prison, she is confident that he will appear in court so his mother and girlfriend can reclaim their bail. Nelson is currently under electronic monitoring and has orders not to leave Lobrano’s apartment unless for an approved emergency. In addition to avoiding firearms and illegal activities, Nelson is also not allowed to “drink in excess,” said the court judge.

“I do believe that Mr. Nelson will adhere to house arrest,” said Byrne. “Most of my clients do very well on electronic monitoring and take the bail requirements seriously.”

No trial date has been set for Nelson, but he was sent to mediation with Pre-Trial services before his release. Byrne chose not to release contact information on Nelson, his family or his girlfriend, and they remain out of contact.

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BOSTON—Before an auditorium of business owners, Detective Steven Blair, both figuratively and literally, laid out some of the scams he thinks Massachusetts retailers will encounter this holiday season.

The two-hour-long seminar was held at the Boston Public Library in Copley yesterday morning and was closed to the public. A pair of police guards stood by each entrance as if protecting the trade secrets told by Blair and his associates.

“Everyone in this room is going to get hit with identity fraud,” warned Blair. A 20-year veteran in solving fraudulent crimes, Blair said he has seen every trick out there. Blair’s collection of souvenirs included fake IDs, forged documents and illegally made passports. He even had a few international drivers licenses — a concept which does not exist but still makes it past lazy patrol officers who give up trying to check its validity.

Blair also revealed card scanners that were small enough to fit, fully disguised, on a keychain. Stacks of fabricated credit cards and gift cards, also sat on Blair’s display table next to boxed software that could create and print blank checks.

“It’s not organized crime,” said Blair, “most of the time it’s just some bored kid with a laptop.” Though conspiracies about foreign counterfeits and large-scale heists were revealed as true later in the seminar, Blair said that his biggest adversaries are tech-savvy young adults.

“It may be the time for community values to increase,” said Jumaada Smith, a first-time attendee and small business owner of an unnamed store in Dudley Square. Smith said she also represented a handful of other small businesses in the Dudley Square area and was shocked by Blair’s testimony that even “mom and pop” stores were vulnerable to holiday fraud.

“It’s just always good to be aware [of fraud], that’s the whole key,” said Smith, “not necessarily suspicious, but aware.” Her first task, upon returning to her friends in Dudley, will be to share the day’s information and reinforce proper conduct among her employees, she said. Although Blair warned to be on the lookout for thousand-dollar purchases, Smith said she plans to take every cent seriously.

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BOSTON—While election results trickled out and America tuned in, window shoppers from Gloucester Street to Clarendon Street found something else to do than watch the election. At the Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop on Newbury Street, voters and non-voters settled in for free ice cream.

In the line that wrapped along the sidewalk and on the steps at nearby boutiques, there were few serious words said about politics. The most common utterance of Barack Obama or John McCain was frequently followed up by a John Stuart, Stephen Colbert or Saturday Night Live reference.

Four students from Berklee were of the few outside Ben & Jerry’s who engaged in conversation about the debate. The group, two from New Hampshire and two from New York, were split about their presidential candidates (Obama, McCain and Barr) and had volumes to say about each one. They didn't come to mingle with other voters, they came for the free ice cream and later went on in search of free coffee (at Starbucks).

“I just want [the election] to be over already,” said Berklee sophomore Stephanie Barker. “How long have we been doing this and still something goes wrong?”

Exhausted, aggravated and apathetic, the four friends could not help but reflect on the flaws of the election process and the hype the media has given it, they said. Free ice cream and coffee were more outlets for them to unwind rather than a way to celebrate and be praised for voting — the way Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks intended.

"I guarantee you that many of these people did not vote," said Greg Arney, also a sophomore at Berklee. Like Arney, it seemed that the voting process was on the mind of few people at the ice cream shop. Popular line-waiting-conversation topics cycled between what flavor of ice cream was best, the length of the line and the weather.

Some people had no idea that the store was giving free ice cream to just anyone. In fact, one girl went in with the intention of buying ice cream and made a surprised comment when she noticed that people weren't paying.

“If I were a parent, I’d bring my kids to Free Ice Cream day too,” said another girl in line as a mother and child walked out of the ice cream shop.

The actual name of the promotion was, “Free Ice Cream for Voters,” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. according to a poster hanging behind the dessert bar. A smaller 8.5”x11” display located on the counter said that even non-voters could get coffee with “no complainin’” from the Ben & Jerry’s staff. That add-on is strikingly reminiscent of the fate of Starbucks’ “It’s Bigger Than Coffee” promotion, which was forced to extend its offer of free coffee to non-voters to avoid violating laws that prohibit giving rewards in exchange for voting.

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